Recycle for your railway — money saving ideas

old drinks straws reused recycled for a model railwayI’m always on the prowl looking for ways to save money when building my model railways. 

I hinted at this in 18 things only a model railway enthusiast will understand and Steve Hollands commented on how he uses coffee sticks.

This got me thinking. What else can be used from around the house to save money when building model railways?

Here are my top 10 fun recycling tips to save money when making a model railway.

  • Coffee Stirrers
    These little pieces of wood have a multitude of uses around layout, whether as sleepers, timber lying around, rail foot crossing and of course they make great stirrers for paint. Whatever the intended use, I always grab a few when offered.


  • Old Sponges
    In a kitchen sponges quickly wear out but once liberated to your layout they have new lease of life  They make great shrubs,  bushes and hedges (see DIY hedgerows) and foliage on trees and can also be used to dab paint to give a more blended coating than normal brushing.


  • Chinese Takeaway Containers
    I don’t know about you but I bye a lot of ballast, flock and scatter material but unless you buy them in the large bottles they’re a nightmare to store. The bags rip and the stuff goes everywhere. Luckily, I also buy a lot of Chinese takeaways and the little plastic containers that the food arrives in makes great storage boxes.


  • Drinking Straws
    For larger scales — O and perhaps OO/HO — paper drinks straws make great drain pipes, gutters and culverts, as seen in the photo. The smaller, plastic, thin ones can be used for smaller scales or downpipes and scaffolding on smaller scales.


  • Tea & Ground Coffee
    I buy a lot of scatter material (see 3 above) but also try to make my own where possible to save money. One the reasons I buy a lot is the colours but for ash and dark sand the kitchen has two ready made infinite supplies. Tea leaves and ground coffee. Once dried out these are perfect ground cover. There’s more on this in my previous post.

    • Cereal Boxes
      Cardboard, particularly that from cereal boxes, is the perfect thickness for making buildings with. Cut it to size, glue together and then glue printed photos of walls (scaled to size) on and you can save a fortune on buildings. There’s a tutorial on this here.


    • Tea Bags
      Several tea bags in hot water make a wonderful wood stain effect. Brew up four or so tea-bags, let them stand in hot water for a while and then place the wood (did someone say coffee stirrers?) in the cup and leave to soak for an hour or so.


    • Pringles
      Pringles tubes. Tunnels. Say no more.


    • Corrugated Cardboard Boxes
      Not so common now but if you have corrugated cardboard boxes around — the sort where the cardboard has an inner layer of ridges — they make perfect HO / OO scale corrugated metal for roofing.


    • Clear Plastic Bottles
      Water bottles and the like, cut up, make great glass for windows.

    What do you recycle or “borrow” from around the house for your layout.

    Picture credit, Adrian Cable via

    >A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.

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